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California Here We Come: 1939

July 1939 near Muskogee, Oklahoma. "Migrant family ready to depart for the journey to California." Elmer Thomas at the wheel. 35mm nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

July 1939 near Muskogee, Oklahoma. "Migrant family ready to depart for the journey to California." Elmer Thomas at the wheel. 35mm nitrate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Elmer and Edna Thomas Family 1939

I have copies of the photos that Russell Lee took of the Thomas Family on their journey to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl Days. He followed them throughout their entire trip. What great memories. I am their granddaughter. My mother "Ruby," age 13, is the little girl in the back of the truck with her Aunt Viola. For all that wondered, the dog actually rode in the back with my mom

Dust Bowl Humor

Some years back PBS ran a wonderful documentary on the migration from the Dust Bowl to California. Many of the migrants survived and prospered again as farmers in the Great Central Valley. One of them recalled a joke his dad told as they were leaving Oklahoma: "How do you tell a rich Okie from a regular Okie? - Your rich Okie has two mattresses strapped to the roof of his car!"

Things are not quite as they seem

Reading the comments, the first thought to come to mind is "don't knock it if you haven't done it." Most of the women in this ex-Okies family would have taken the 10 gauge to any man they though "wasn't doing them fair" and I am sure the ladies here would have done no less.

But the ventilation in the old Ford at the typical road speed of thirty MPH or so was notable for blowing a gale in the occupants faces, while leaving the rest of them in a dead calm. And in leaving the occupants sitting in a puddle of sweat sometime around mid morning.

Three men on a warm day usually got pretty ripe in a hurry. Given the choice most male non-drivers preferred to ride on the running board from the first of May until first frost. Most of the ladies preferred the relative comfort of the rear, where there was more freedom to move about, and always a fair breeze with little chance of accidental overexposure.

On the other hand, the dog had probably ridden everything in sight, and the running board was not an uncomfortable station. Fido would soon lie down with his head comfortably on the front fender, raising his head as an interesting scent wafted down the wind.

Ahhh, those were the days!

Old Radio Man

Check the Oil (Can)

Looks like they made sure to change or add a can of Esso oil before the trip westward.

The Thomas Family

Very interesting to me that I found this on the net. Since Tommy is my grandfather. It's amazing what you can find once you start doing some research.

The Thomas Family

The whole family ended up in Bakersfield, California, dog and all. Elmer was my great-grandfather. Others in the truck are Edna his wife, Tommy, Frank, Viola and Ruby.

Lucky dog on running board

I agree. At least the dog got to go with the family. Speeds were likely 20-30 mph if they were lucky enough to be on a good road. Chances are that the dog survived just fine.

Pity the dog?!?!

What about the people living through the Dust Bowl trying to survive and being uprooted from their home. I'd say the dog's damn lucky he didn't get left behind so they could save a couple pennies a week on food.

Good grief! More compassion for a dog than about messed up priorities.


Where else was the dog suppose to ride? I agree, at least they didn't leave him behind.

The Dog

Tying off Scout, or Butch, or whatever his name was by the neck might not have been the smartest thing, but Brother's holding on, and at least they didn't leave him behind. And, the journey didn't involve screaming down the interstate at 75 mph. I bet he survived the trip, as did the ladies riding topside. I hope California was good to them all.

Spirit of Extasy

The radiator ornament is somewhat reminiscent of the "Spirit of Extasy" designed by Ch. Sykes for Rolls-Royce in 1911, but it is not the same. Personalizing your car with a custom radiator ornament was very popular in the thirties and there were hundreds to choose from. If you happen to have a frosted glass ornament by the French designer Lalique, left over from your grandfather's phaeton, you are sitting on an item that could fetch a multiple of $10,000 at auction if in mint condition. I wondered too about the fancy figure on this otherwise clapped-out Ford A, but I guess it was on the car when these people bought it.

[Ahem. Ecstasy, not "extasy." - Dave]

Is the car a Rolls-Royce?!

Is the car a Rolls-Royce?! Or is there another maker with the flying lady?

[It's a circa 1929 Ford Model A pickup truck. - Dave]

Pity the dog

Please tell me the poor mutt didn't ride that running board across three states.

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